afrol News / SANF, 21 September - Planned since the 1970s and inaugurated last month, commercial transports have now started on the Chipata-Mchinji railway line between Zambia and Malawi. Soon, a connection to Mozambique's coast will come, pending rehabilitation.
The launch of the Chipata-Mchinji railway line is called "historic" in the region,. It is set to provide the shortest route from landlocked Zambia to the Mozambican port of Nacala on the Indian Ocean, hopefully boosting trade not only in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia but the entire Southern African region.
Linking eastern Zambia to Malawi, the Chipata-Mchinji railway is soon to join the Nacala railway in Mozambique, leading to the Nacala port. In particular the existing railway connection in Malawi is in need of rehabilitation. Nacala is one of the three ports in Mozambique that has a natural deep water harbour, allowing unrestricted access to vessels of all sizes.
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony of the Chitapa-Mchinji railway line in late August, Zambian President Rupiah Banda said the development provides an opportunity for the three countries to deepen integration as well as boost trade in the region.
He said the railway line was "critical to the economy" of many Southern African countries, particularly Zambia as it would reduce the cost of importing goods from the Far East. Zambia is currently relying on the longer route to the ports, using the Tazara railway line that links the country with the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
"Although it has taken this long," President Banda said, "we are happy that we have reached this stage. Our dream has been realised. It makes it cheaper for us to bring in goods from Asia. It is the shortest route to the sea," he added.
His Malawian counterpart, Bingu wa Mutharika, who witnessed the commissioning ceremony concurred and said the private sector should partner the government in ensuring the railway line is a major success. "The business community should respond to the political will shown and take advantage of the facility," he said.
President Mutharika described the railway line as a major achievement for the three countries as it would enable them to smoothly transport their agricultural, mineral and manufactured goods across the region as well as to various destinations in the world.
Mozambican Transport and Infrastructure Minister Paulo Zucula, who stood in for President Armando Guebuza, also hailed the development as a major step towards deeper regional integration.
The key infrastructure link has been planned for decades. The Chipata-Mchinji rail was first initiated in the early 1970s as a bilateral project between Zambia and Malawi.
Construction work started in 1982 only to stall for several decades due to lack of funds. Availability of funds saw the construction of the railway resume in 2006. Last month, the works had finished and regional leaders inaugurated the rail link. This week, according to SADC reports, the commercial drifting of the railway started.
Then, the construction of the Chipata-Mchinji railway line meets the objective of Africa's three regional economic communities, namely COMESA, EAC and SADC, who had agreed on a programme of action to build sound infrastructure to strengthen integration.
Over US$ 1.2 billion were raised by the three communities to upgrade regional road, rail and port to support facilitation measures. Planned projects include the construction of over 8,000 km of roads, rehabilitation of 600 km of rail and upgrading of ports.
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